In a previous post I mentioned a new book by D.K. LeVick, an author who I met at one of Writer’s Digests’ workshop events. I had the pleasure of working with LeVick on his book Bridges: A Tale of Niagara. LeVick went on to get the book published by Langdon Street Press, and it’s now available.
Here’s a really great interview I had with the author, who is great writer and a heck of a nice guy. His book is available in bookstores, on Amazon, and wherever else you like to shop for books.
Tell me about when you first started writing.
My English teacher in the ninth grade (no, it wasn’t a one-room schoolhouse), told me she thought I could write and encouraged me to do so. I spent the next four years trying to prove she was right. Then life caught up with me and took me away from writing fiction for enjoyment to writing technical for survival (and yes, some of my technical writing has been described as fiction).
How long was Bridges in the making? Can you tell me a little about the writing process for the book?
In October 2008 I was going through some old papers of mine that had been stored for years and came across a short story I had written in 1976. After reading it, immediately following an involuntary gagging session, I began making changes. A year later, those original 12 yellowed pages had grown into 360 pages. That was when I heard about the workshop in Cincinnati and that the staff would critique the first 50 pages of a manuscript, so I decided, “what the heck – let’s give it a shot”.
You and I met at that workshop where we had the chance to talk about your manuscript for Bridges. As I recall, the manuscript was complete at the time and you were tinkering with revisions. What’s the rest of the story from that point to finding your publisher?
After being encouraged at the writer’s conference, I went out all pumped up and excited ready to meet the writing world. It wasn’t ready to meet me. I had been given two leads at the workshop to pursue, both being for small presses. I ignored them and sent out 49 query letters to agents. 49 rejections later I went back and revisited those small press leads I’d been given and I immediately received a positive response from one and sent in my manuscript. They seemed very interested but then I didn’t hear anything for weeks from them. Following up, I found out they had gone bankrupt. Back to square one, but I now focused on the small presses.
Bridges seems pretty steeped in nostalgia—it’s one of the things about the book that I enjoyed. What was your inspiration?
It’s strange for me to think of the 60’s as nostalgia, but in fact they are. The 60’s were a special decade. Unique and stand alone in our history. In 1962, the world feared an atomic war and we had bomb shelters and ‘A’ bomb drills hiding under school desks to protect ourselves while living the illusion of being at peace with ourselves and the world. We felt ‘everything had been done and invented’ and there was nothing left for us to do. Meanwhile, the decade was on the verge of being the most dynamic, world changing decade history had ever seen. Civil rights, technology, economics, drugs, society values and war exploded across the overnight window of worldwide knowledge that turned everything upside down. The later 60’s left us in shock and secretly yearning for those earlier years when we wore bomber hats, drank hot chocolate and snowball fights were our only wars. How much more inspiration could one need? I tried to capture these complex and contradictory feelings of transition (a bridge?) in the book. When you first met me the title was The Bridge. I changed that to Bridges – a Tale of Niagara to reflect the many “bridges” in the book. In addition to the obvious (the ‘ice-bridge’, Rainbow Bridge, Railroad Bridge) there’s the not so obvious such as the ‘bridge’ between each of the characters, the ‘bridge’ themes that run through the historical stories, the ‘bridge’ across time with Niagara and the ‘bridge’ across people from different times in history.
What piece of advice would you say helped you most as a writer?
Simple answer: Stephen King. No, not his many novels and stories, but one obscure little book, entitled On Writing. By some act of fate, I happened to come across this yellowed paperback at a used book store, and bought it for fifty cents just as I was finishing, what turned out to be the first draft of Bridges. It was 116,786 words long. After reading King’s little book, I rewrote Bridges and it ended up at 83,000 words. His advice on cutting and eliminating excess baggage is invaluable. Every person who wants to write should have it, read it and write by it. There’s a lot of good information and instruction available on writing, but that little book taught me more than all the rest put together.
How did you find your publisher? What was that process like?
Not pleasant. It’s a process that is very hard on the ego and causes one to really do some deep self-analysis, especially true for older novices like myself. As mentioned above, over the course of a year I sent out 49 query letters without success. Seemed everyone wanted vampires, secret agents or romance. I found out that publishing has little to do with writing. It’s a business with a market and a product to be sold. What’s selling? And there’s no room for taking a chance on an unknown product (writer). This is not a criticism of the business, but it must be understood by the novice writer.
Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
On the grand scale of things, I would have followed my heart and love for writing after the ninth grade and not allowed life to get me off course. But with that being said, in regards to Bridges specifically, I would follow the advice I was first given and skipped the agent search, pursuing the small presses. Also, I would learn and do more about building a platform for marketing early on. One can write all they want, but if they want their voice heard they need to let people know it’s there. This isn’t too difficult for newer generations, but can be a daunting task for us who walk a little slower.
What advice would you give to other writers trying to get their first book deal?
Grow thick skin and realize that most rejections are not based on your writing style or ability but on your idea or theme and the presentation of it in your query letter. If it’s not the gender or storyline an agent is looking for, they’ll pass on it quickly and without much (if any) feedback. In today’s publishing world there are many ways to get your voice heard. Find yours and believe in it. The publishing arena is totally different than the writing arena. Writing is internal and self-expression. Publishing is a business – period. Publishers care one thing about your self-expression – can they make money on it. That’s not a bad thing, that’s business. But wanna-be writers looking to be published writers must understand this or they’re doomed to frustration and depression. Research your agents as much as you do your writing. Seek out those who seek your voice.
What’s next for you? Any new writing projects in the works?
Absolutely! I’ve written some short stories recently and I’m working on my next novel. I’m fortunate and blessed that my ‘flame’ didn’t go out over the years and was able to be turned up, so as long as there’s breath in my body, words in my mind and feelings in my heart, I’ll find the means to write and hopefully, someone will want to read it.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share with other writers?
When you think you’ve polished and finished your work – read it out loud. You’ll find you see things differently. Then be persistent and believe in what you did.
For more info on Writer’s Digest workshops visit Writers Digest University